The Farallones are often visited by wayward migrating birds flying north and south along the Pacific Flyway. Blown off course by weather or just plain lost, birds from the east coast of North America and even some Asian species have dropped by. While most just stop for a few days to rest and fuel up before getting back on track, some birds have decided to stay on the islands permanently.
Brown boobies usually live on the coasts of the tropical Atlantic and Pacific oceans, only reaching as far north as the Gulf of California. Starting around the year 2000, a few individuals have been seen sporadically visiting the Farallones, usually in the fall. Since 2014, there has been a large spike in the number of brown boobies sighted on the islands, with almost 40 individuals seen last year. Usually only overwintering, there are still a couple hanging around Southeast Farallon in the middle of May.
Another tropical bird and close relative of the brown boobies, a blue-footed booby has also made the Farallones home. In the summer of 2013, an irruption of blue-footed boobies flooded the southwestern United States. While most left to return to warmer waters, one individual has remained to call the Farallones home.
The name booby comes from the Spanish word bobo, meaning stupid, fool or clown. This name probably came from their clumsiness on land their lack of fear of humans. Sailors thought them to be stupid birds as they would land on ships where they could be easily captured and eaten.
But the most unusual bird to reside on the Farallones has to be the northern gannet. When it was first seen in April 2012, it was the first confirmed sighting of the species in the Pacific Ocean. Many thought it would eventually leave to return to the northern Atlantic waters it calls home, but 4 years later it is still here.
All three of these species are members of the bird family Suilidae. Possibly wanting to gather around similar looking birds, the brown boobies, blue-footed booby and northern gannet all like to roost on Southeast Farallon’s Sugar Loaf Rock on the north side of the island where they can be easily seen by biologists and interns from the top of Lighthouse Hill.